After receiving mixed reactions to his entry into the Star Wars canon with The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson finally circles back to the niche he’s best known for. An expert in heists, crime and mystery, his work on the Knives Out franchise has been critically acclaimed and commercially successful. He follows this up with Poker Face, a refreshing new crime series.
Charlie Cale (Natasha Lyonne) is a genius card player with the uncanny ability to tell when people are lying. Originally hired to rig a poker game at the casino she works for, she gets tangled up in a series of crimes and dead bodies, catalysed by the death of her friend. As she seeks the truth of the situation, her increasingly suspicious boss forces her to focus on the upcoming poker game. However, when Charlie finally figures out the connection between the two, she double-crosses him, which leads her to go on the run, meeting new people and solving some mysteries along the way.
The structure is case-of-the-week: each episode provides a special guest star – Adrian Brody, Colton Ryan and Chloë Sevigny to name a few – and begins with the crime committed, before sharply turning to Charlie’s whereabouts beforehand and during, and her efforts to solve it. It’s not a seamless transition by any means. The whole aesthetic of the show is fast, including pacing, storytelling and editing style. There are a lot of quick cuts between scenes, sudden zooms and constant movement between past and present, with no visual cues to differentiate between the two. However, despite the speed of everything taking place, Johnson doesn’t falter in providing details. All the evidence that Charlie gathers to solve each mystery is calculated – the viewers themselves can figure them out if they pay enough attention.
One major downside to Poker Face is the extent to which it abuses callback lines and references. The script is riddled with parallels within every episode and, while these can be fun easter eggs for those watching, they do get extremely tiring. Also, while Charlie is an endearing main character who is easy to root for, there are far too many conveniences at her disposal that make up for her weaknesses. This provides an easy out when it comes to explaining how she reaches her conclusions. However, overall, Poker Face, and Lyonne in particular, remain incredibly watchable.
Poker Face is released on Sky on 26th May 2023.
Watch the trailer for Poker Face here: